Friday, May 29, 2009


Only for Jews, maybe only for New York Jews, maybe only for New York Jews of a certain age, is "appetizing" a noun as well as an adjective. I grew up with appetizing stores, places that sold smoked fish and pickled herring and bagels and bialys and cream cheese.

I thought about appetizing as I ate my bagel with smoked salmon last Sunday. The bagel was from The Bagel Hole in Park Slope, one of the only places where you can still get a classic, smallish, chewy New York bagel, not one of those humongous, bready things that pass for bagels these days, rolls in bagels' clothing. The smoked salmon was not classic, though. It was designer smoked salmon: Charlie Trotter's citrus-cured, and it was excellent.

When I was a kid I used to go out every Sunday morning to pick up bagels and lox and cream cheese for our Sunday breakfast. The local appetizing store was appropriately named The Bagel 'N' Lox. Sometimes I'd also pick up some fancy cookies from the Hungarian Bakery next door. And I also picked up the Sunday Times, which to an eight- or ten-year-old seemed as heavy as an anvil.

When I lived in the East Village, in the eighties, I frequented M. Schacht, on Second Avenue, for my appetizing. I'd occasionally go down to Russ & Daughters, on Houston Street, which is still there, but Schacht was closer. One time I asked the counter guy for some lox and he asked me if I really wanted lox, and not Nova, and did I know the difference? Did I know the difference? If you prick me do I not bleed? I don't even know how easy it is to find true lox these days, though I'm sure Russ & Daughters and probably Zabar's carry it. Lox (sometimes called belly lox) is salt-brine-cured salmon, as opposed to Nova, or Nova Scotia, or Novy, which is cold-smoked. Lox is much saltier than Novy, and a little goes a long way, especially if you're buying for one.

One day several months later I went into Schacht and asked the same guy for an eighth of a pound of lox. This time he didn't ask me if I knew what lox was. This time he said, "An eighth of lox! Are you havin' a party?"

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Subway Roulette

I played subway roulette at lunchtime today.  I work in the East 50s, and sometimes I feel like getting out of the neighborhood for lunch, for variety, but some place not too far, maybe three of four stops on the train.  So I go to the subway at Lexington & 53rd and wait for a train.  The two choices are the E and the V.  If the E comes first I hop on and go to lunch on 8th, or more likely 9th Avenue.  If the V comes first I go some place close to 6th Avenue, maybe one of the Korean places on W. 32nd or maybe Szechuan Gourmet.

Today the E came.  I took it to 8th Avenue & 50th, headed to 9th Avenue and walked south (I often walk north).  I passed a place I've been meaning to try, Gazala's Place, a Middle Eastern restaurant with a difference--it's Druse.  But I decided to wait until I could go with more people or at least on a day I had my camera with me.  I passed a La Kabbr, an Iraqi restaurant I have tried; I found it to be good but nothing special.  I decided as I was walking that I'd go for a lunch special at Bali Nusa Indah, which may be the only Indonesian restaurant in Manhattan at this time.  I've been there a number of times.

I had the fish filet with a spicy lemon grass sauce, which was served with a pickled vegetable salad and spring rolls.  Bali Nusa Indah has been around for a number of years, but I think foodies dismiss it or take it for granted because there's better, more "authentic" Indonesian food to be found in Queens.  True as that may be, Bali Nusah Indah is quite a decent restaurant, with good food and very reasonable prices.  Diners looking for an Asian restaurant in the West 40s would do well to consider it.

Bali Nusa Indah
651 9th Avenue (between 45th & 46th)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Chicken Pops

Kids often mishear or misconstrue words or phrases based on what they already know. My friend Janice insists I had more than my fair share of mishearings, misconstruings and misunderstandings every time I tell her one of them.

When I was little I thought there was a childhood disease called "chicken pops." I was unfamiliar with the term "pox," so this was a natural error, I think. I thought that each of the pockmarks was an individual "chicken pop." It made perfect sense to me. They were little round things, sort of like Sugar Pops, a favorite cereal of mine at the time.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Pickles, A Love Story

This is an excerpt from a super-8 film I made during my last year in high school, in 1972 or '73. I took a special section of English devoted to film, at Midwood High School. The teacher was Sybil DelGaudio, who went on to a distinguished academic career, and made a couple of films herself. I believe she was working on her doctorate while she was teaching high school. Sybil was one of those great, inspiring teachers, and she encouraged both my creativity and my weirdness. The film was called "Snot and Other Delights" (I was a teenager), and it was a montage of vignettes, including a couple of animations. Here is the pickle scene, my first YouTube upload.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Enhanced Pork

A dish I've enjoyed at two Flushing Sichuan restaruants, Spicy & Tasty and Little Pepper, is called "enhanced pork." It's generally made with belly pork, and I think the word "enhanced" may refer to a curing process. But now with all this talk about "enhanced interrogation techniques" I'm getting worried. Could I have unwittingly eaten the meat of waterboarded or sleep-deprived pigs?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mrs. Zabell's Wrist

My first erotic experience, as far as I can remember, was the one involving Mrs. Zabell's wrist. Mrs. Zabell was the lady at the local pharmacy. It was Mother's Day, and I was ten years old. I had decided to buy my mother a bottle of cologne, Arpège. I knew about Arpège from the commercials–"Promise her anything, but give her Arpège." So I went to the corner pharmacy and asked Mrs. Zabell for a bottle of Arpège, but she threw me a curveball. "I have some other fragrances that are very nice and less expensive," she said.

"That's all right," I said, sticking to my guns, "I'll take Arpège."

"Why don't you see if you like one of the others," she persisted, and dabbed some cologne on her wrist. She inched her wrist toward my face. I started turning red. "Go ahead, sniff," she gently ordered.

"That's okay," I said, nervously, "I'll take Arpège."

"Don't be shy," she said. "It won't hurt to try."

I was horrified and excited at the same time. And I sniffed. But I couldn't make any sense of the smell because I was so confused. "It's very nice," I said, my voice quavering, "but I'd still like the Arpège." And Mrs. Zabell, her initiation finished, backed down and sold me what I had come for.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Brooklyn Deli Triangle

When I was growing up in Brooklyn, in the sixties, there were probably hundreds, certainly dozens of kosher delis where you could get a respectable, and sometimes great, pastrami or corned beef sandwich. Now there are really just a handful left, and that's more than you can say for most boroughs, especially if you discount "kosher-style" Manhattan tourist traps like Stage and Carnegie.

Most of the old-style delis that are left in Brooklyn are located in a fairly concentrated area, a triangle encompassing Midwood, Gravesend, Sheepshead Bay, Marine Park and Mill Basin (and I'm not sure what the boundaries between these neighborhoods are). You could say there's a veritable route des delis, from Avenue M to Avenue U on one axis, E. 19th to E. 58th on the other.

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I've started exploring the classic delis of Brooklyn with my old friend Arthur, a native Brooklynite and a deli maven. It was Arthur who, some time ago, had told me about Essex on Coney, which was a Brooklyn outpost of a once-noted Lower East Side deli. Arthur told me that there was really only one thing worth ordering at Essex on Coney, but it was really worth ordering. He was talking about the corned beef, which was cured in-house. All the other deli meats, he told me, were just so-so. By the time we finally got to Essex on Coney several months ago it was no longer on Coney (Island Avenue, that is). They had merged with a diner of long-standing, on Avenue M near Ocean Avenue, one I used to visit as a teenager, The Caraville (which was not glatt kosher at the time, as it is now). So now one can order both Jewish deli food and diner food at a place that looks like a diner. I had a corned beef sandwich, and was indeed impressed. It was moist and flavorful, with a respectable but not obscene fat content. Arthur the deli maven was spot on. The spinach and potato knish I tried was all right, but nothing special. One feature of classic delis is that you're served free pickles and cole slaw when you're seated, and both were quite good at Essex/Caraville (A on map).

Essex Corned Beef

In January of this year Arthur and I went to Jay & Lloyd's (C on map), in Marine Park. This place looks like an old deli, and it seems to have a loyal clientele. Our waitress ran hot and cold. At first she was brusque, but at times she showed glimmers of warmth, or, as Arthur put it, hot flashes of warmth. As we were perusing the menu, I noticed that they listed rolled beef under sandwiches, but with no price and the word "seasonal" in parentheses. I found that odd, and I started telling Arthur about my blog post on the scarcity of rolled beef. The waitress, who obviously isn't losing her hearing, yelled from across the room, "Ya can't get it anymore!"

I told her that, actually, you can, and that I've had it recently as Sarge's, and it's also served at the new Second Avenue Deli.

"How long ago?" she yelled. It was a challenge.

"Just a couple of months ago."

"Well they tell me you can't get it anymore."

"I'll bet there's only one supplier that makes it," I said. "I guess yours doesn't carry it."

We got back to the menu. I knew I was going to have a pastrami sandwich, but having made the trip I decided I had to try something else, so I went for an appetizer that looked wonderfully unhealthy and fattening: fried kreplach with onions (and I wouldn't be surprised if the onions were sauteed in chicken fat). They were a bit of a disappointment--the meat stuffing was rather bland and underseasoned. The pastrami sandwich, on the other hand, was a thing of beauty, perfectly spiced and moist with a perfect fat to lean ratio, it brought back pseudo-Proustian false memories of the idyllic Brooklyn childhood I never had.

Jay & Lloyd's Pastrami

The waitress must have heard me telling Arthur how good the pastrami was, because as I was going to the bathroom she said to me, "I'm glad you enjoyed our food."

"The pastrami was fantastic," I said.

"That's what we're known for!"

The next time out, Arthur and I went to the Mill Basin Kosher Deli (D on map), which required a transfer to a bus from the subway, a moderate schlep. It's very close to the King's Plaza Shopping Center, which I used to frequent as a teenager. I had high hopes for this one, because it seemed to have gotten the most online kvells from diners. This time I got Arthur to agree to split two sandwiches, a corned beef and a pastrami, as well as an order of French fries, of which I had read raves. I have to say, though, I was tempted to walk out when I saw that the menu listed them as "our famous freedom fries." The big, fat fries were quite good, but both sandwiches were somewhat disappointing, especially since I'd been led to believe that this was the deli of delis. The problem was that both the meats were too salty as well as too dry. The corned beef was no contest for Essex, and the pastrami couldn't hold a candle to Jay and Lloyd's.

Corned Beef and Pastrami at Mill Basin

Mill Basin Fries

Another survivor from the days of deli glory is Adelman's, on Kings Highway. This was going to be my last deli stop with Arthur, on a Sunday, but the day before it struck me that I really needed to go back to Jay & Lloyd's to give the corned beef a try. The way I figure it, if you're going to do a deli comparison the two benchmark deli meats should be corned beef and pastrami. Based on Arthur's report I had no problem passing on the pastrami at Essex, but if I were going to pronounce Jay & Lloyd's a great deli I had to try the corned beef. So I went back on my own. Sadly, I can't pronounce Jay & Lloyd's a great deli. After the near-perfect pastrami, the corned beef was mind-bogglingly bland, perhaps the most flavorless corned beef I'd ever tasted. And the matzoh ball soup was equally bland, among the worst I've ever had. Could Jay & Lloyd's be a one-trick pastrami pony? I'll have to make at least one more visit before I'm sure.

(B on map), like Jay & Lloyd's has the classic shabby deli look about it, as opposed to Essex/Caraville, which is pure diner, and Mill Basin Kosher Deli, which is a bit too prissy in its decor. At Adelman's I decided to opt for the half sandwich special, which consists of a half deli sandwich of your choice, a knish, and a soft drink for $9. The pastrami at Adelman's was respectable, though no real challenge to Jay and Lloyd's. It was a bit on the greasy side, and perhaps a little too heavy on the pastrami seasoning, but still satisfying. The meat knish (I hadn't had one in years) was fairly bland. I remember more garlic and pepper flavor in the meat knishes of my youth.

Adelman's Pastrami

There were a few surprises in my deli adventures. Based on the general consensus on Chowhound and other food review sites I was expecting Mill Basin to be the winner and Adelman's the loser. Yet Mill Basin was a total washout and Adelman's was not bad at all.

So, in the Brooklyn deli sandwich pageant, I'd have to say that the pastrami at Jay & Lloyd's and the corned beef at Essex are the clear winners. But all of these delis seem to have their weak points, and overall I'd have to say that unless you're already in Brooklyn you'd do just as well to get your deli sandwiches in Manhattan (albeit for a few dollars more) at either Katz's or the 2nd Avenue Deli.